QR Codes in Every Magazine: Been There, Done That

For those naysayers in the industry who think QR Codes are rubbish on a stick, I wonder what they would say about the new Nellymoser data that shows that, of the top 100 magazine publications in the U.S., 99 of them — yes, I said 99 of them — were using QR Codes?

Earlier this month, Nellymoser (a mobile computing and research company) released the results of its “mobile action code” analysis covering Q1 2012. The overall number of magazine ad pages containing a QR code or other type of action code, it reported, was up 288% over Q1 2011—from 352 in Q1 2011 to 1365 in Q1 2012.

For its study, Nellymoser analyzed the top 100 U.S. magazines by circulation and looked at the published issues from January to March 2012. Significant growth findings include:

  • The percentage of magazines with at least one code went from 78% in Q1 2011 to 99% in Q1 2012.
  • The total number of mobile action codes grew 288% — from 352 in Q1 2011 to 1365 in Q1 2012.
  • For the first time, the percentage of magazine advertising pages containing a mobile action code exceeded 8% each month of the quarter. This is up significantly from March 2011 when just 3.55% of ad pages contained one.
  • More than 450 brands ran at least one advertisement during Q1 2012 that included a code, up from 137 in Q1 2011.
  • Marketers overwhelmingly favored QR codes over other types of action codes with more than 80% of all printed action codes being QR codes in Q1.

I look at these numbers and wonder about all of the comments I’ve heard and read about how the days of QR Codes are numbered. As soon as something better comes along, they say, QR Codes be discarded. I have a hard time believing that, especially given the broad base of use around the world.

QR Codes are becoming part of the fabric of our marketing. Even if they have their drawbacks (which they do), they have become a known quantity for which we are all set up and comfortable.

At a certain point, technology becomes just the way it is. While there will always been bigger, better, faster, stronger, more flexible options for certain projects, we just settle into the existing adoption base until something disruptive comes along to change the dynamic.

I wonder if we’ve passed that point for QR Codes?

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10 thoughts on “QR Codes in Every Magazine: Been There, Done That

  1. Joost

    Very nice roundup of the usage of QR codes in magazines. However, what really counts is the actual usage of QR codes by the people targeted.

    If you follow the same logic you can also promote the success of unsolicited email campaigns.

    Sending a message (or QR code for that matter) doesn’t automatically mean the message is consumed!

  2. Margie Dana

    Holly, interesting piece & valid points. I have never been a fan of the QR. I find them disruptive and have never felt compelled to whip out my phone and activate a code to learn more. When I do scan a code, it’s because I’m in the business and am curious about where it’ll take me.

    Your opening sentence rings true, more than you know! Last weekend we bought flowering plants for our home garden. Each of the plastic plant tags had a QR code below the “how to cultivate” information. Your ‘rubbish on a stick’ reference was perfect.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    @ Joost I understand your point, but I think the intent of the data is to show the attitudes of magazines, not consumers. Both work in tandem, I think. But good point.

    @ Margie I’ve had a client calling me Holly for the past six or eight years. It’s become sort of a second skin. 🙂

  4. Jeff Wampler

    The data shows that QR Codes are being printed, but where is the data as to whether or not they are being scanned? That’s what I want to see. What bothers me about them is that most of the QRs that I have scanned just take you to a regular website without relevevant content that has been optimized for mobile and then it is difficult to view on my mobile device. Does anyone remember the CueCat Scanner that they sent out to everyone for free years ago? It was a barcode scanner shaped like a cat that plugged into your PC so you could read barcodes that would take you to a website. I guess it was the forerunner to QRs. I may use QRs more if it were easier to use them on my PC where I could actually read the site. Just my opinion though.

  5. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    GfK Starch did some research into that. Here are some quotes from my report aggregating QR Code data from around the industry “QR Codes: The Data Speaks” (http://bit.ly/s543ke).

    . . . GfK MRI Starch has also looked into the demographics of QR code scanners — but in the context of magazine advertising. It released its results in the August 2011 issue of Advertising Age, in which it found that 4% of all readers who noticed 2d barcodes in the first half of 2011 had scanned them. Of these, 6% were men; 4% were women. So once again, we see a 60/40 split.

    . . . In its research into the use of QR codes among magazine readers, for example, GfK MRI Starch found that younger people were more likely to activate the codes than older ones. In its research, 6% of readers between 18 to 34 years old who noted ads with the codes took a picture, according to GfK MRI Starch, compared with 3% of people age 35 and up. This shows a completely different dynamic in this market; hence to the need to be very sensitive to context when we discuss demographics

  6. Noel Ward

    Sure, QR codes are appearing in magazines, but it’s not like the magazines have anything to do with it. QR codes the latest version of 800 numbers or URLs in a print ad. They’re becoming the norm and not a lot to get excited about.

    More likely, ad agencies are recommending to clients that they use QR codes in their print ads. These same advertisers likely have QR codes on billboards, posters in store windows, ads in public transportation, etc. If the agency and client both have their act together, the code links to a great landing page that engages the customer/prospect and entices the person to whip out the plastic.

    So what would be far more interesting and meaningful is whether there is any uptick in sales that can be attributed to the codes–as in what percentage of those 6% of readers from 18-34 who scanned a code are buying products/services from the company for which they scanned the code. I know this is harder to track, and that companies may not be willing to share the data, but sales of products are what matters, not that the codes are in magazines or wherever.

  7. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    @ Noel The sense I’m getting, though, is that the magazines are pushing QR codes as a way to create a sense of greater value around the advertising. Certainly when I talked to Hearst, it was the magazine — not the clients — that drove these campaigns. As magazine advertising drops, publishers are scrambling for ways to provide greater value to advertisers, and additional trackability is one of them.

  8. Bob Vitale

    It’s a shame that they’re so d*#@ ugly – disruptive to any good design. Personally, I’m tired of being sold to. I wonder if I’m alone in that way?

  9. Noel Ward

    Makes sense for the mags to push the codes as a tracking mechanism. After all, the bingo cards died a long time ago!

    But on the other hand, so what?
    Having any type of scannable code in an ad is like having an 800-number in an ad, or just a URL. Some people will use it, others won’t. It’s just there. By the time you can scan in a code on your phone and get to the landing page you could have typed the URL and gotten there anyway. It’s only worthwhile if the code is attached to an offer, and many don’t seem to be. You still need to peruse the company’s web site to find out anything useful.

    There is however, technology available that would let one scan a photo or an ad and then go directly to a website. While just a better version of the same thing, it would be better than having an ugly QR code in every ad.

    I personally don’t care either way. I don’t shop, don’t like being sold to, and ignore 95% of all ads. And no matter the kind of code, it has more to do with advertising and marketing than printing.

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